In this spellbinding sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Last Magician,Esta and Harte set off on a cross-country chase through time to steal back the elemental stones they need to save the future of magic.
Hunt the Stones. Beware the Thief. Avenge the Past.
Esta’s parents were murdered. Her life was stolen. And everything she knew about magic was a lie. She thought the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she ever imagined.
Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world to get its revenge, and it will use Esta to do it.
To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is like nothing they expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink not willing to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them.
In St. Louis, the extravagant World’s Fair hides the first stone, but an old enemy is out for revenge and a new enemy is emerging. And back in New York, Viola and Jianyu must defeat a traitor in a city on the verge of chaos.
As past and future collide, time is running out to rewrite history—even for a time-traveling thief.
The Thief turned her back on the city—on everything she had once been and on all the lies she had once believed. The ache of loss had honed her, and the weight of memory had pressed her into something new—hard and cold as a diamond. The Thief carried the memory of those losses as a weapon against what was to come as she faced the span of the great bridge.
The dark road spooled out before her, leading onward to where night had already bruised the horizon, its shadow falling over the low-slung buildings and the bare treetops of a land she’d never thought to visit. Measured in steps, the distance wasn’t all that great, but between her and that other shore stood the Brink, with all its devastating power.
At her side stood the Magician. Once he had been her enemy. Always he had been her equal. Now he was her ally, and she had risked everything to come back for him. He shuddered, but whether it was from the cold evening air on his bare arms or from the reality of what they needed to do—the impossibility of it—the Thief couldn’t be sure.
His voice came to her, a hushed whisper in the wind. “A day ago I had planned to die. I thought I was ready, but . . .” He glanced over at her, his storm-cloud eyes revealing everything he wasn’t saying.
“This will work,” she reassured him, not because she knew it was true but because there was no other option. She might not be able to change the past, might not be able to save the innocent or rewrite her mistakes and regrets, but she would change the future.
Behind them, a streetcar approached, sending vibrations through the track beneath their feet.
They couldn’t be seen there.
“Give me your hand,” the Thief commanded.
The Magician glanced at her, a question in his eyes, but she held out her bare hand, ready. With one touch he would be able read her every hope and fear. With one touch he could turn her from this path. Better to know where his heart stood now.
A moment later his hand caught hers, palm to palm.
The coolness of his skin barely registered, because when her skin touched his, power sizzled against her palm. She’d felt his affinity’s warmth before, but what she felt now was something new. A wave of unfamiliar energy licked against her skin, testing her boundaries as though searching for a way into her.
He’d tried to explain—tried to warn her after she had returned from the future he’d sent her to, a future he’d thought was safe. All that power is in me, he’d said.
She hadn’t understood. Until now.
Now the familiar warmth of his affinity was overwhelmed by a stronger magic, a power that had once been contained in the pages of the Ars Arcana the Thief had tucked into her skirts—a book that people she loved had lied and fought and died for. Now its power was beginning to creep upward, wrapping around her wrist, solid and heavy as the silver cuff she wore on her arm.
At the edges of her consciousness, the Thief thought she heard voices whispering.
“Stop it,” she told him through clenched teeth.
His response came out clipped, strained. “I’m trying.”
When she looked over at him, his expression was pained, but his eyes were bright, their irises flashing with colors she could not have named. He drew in a breath, his nostrils flaring slightly with the effort, and a moment later the colors in his eyes faded until they were his usual stormy gray. The warmth vining around her arm receded, and the voices she’d heard scratching at the boundaries of her mind went quiet.
Together they began to walk. Away from their city, their only home. Away from her regrets and failures.
As they passed the first set of brick and steel arches, each step was one more toward their possible end. This close to the Brink, its cold energy warned anyone with an affinity for the old magic to stay away. The Thief could feel it, could sense those icy tendrils of corrupted power clawing at her, at the very heart of what she was.
But the warning didn’t stop her.
Too much had happened. Too many people had been lost, and all because she had been willing to believe in the comfort of lies and too easily led. It was a mistake she wouldn’t repeat. The truth of who and what she was had seared her, burning away all the lies she’d once accepted. About her world. About herself.
That blaze had cauterized her aching regrets and left her a girl of fire. A girl of ash and scars. She carried a taste in her mouth that made her think of vengeance. It stiffened her resolve and kept her feet moving. Because after everything that had happened, all that she had learned, she had nothing left to lose.
She had everything left to lose.
Brushing aside the dark thought, the Thief took a deep, steadying breath and found the spaces between the seconds that hung suspended around her. Once she had not thought of time, or her ability to manipulate it, as anything particularly special. She knew better now. Time was the quintessence of existence—Aether—the substance that held the world together. Now she appreciated the way she could sense everything—the air and the light, matter itself—tugging against the net of time.
How could she have missed this? It was all so startlingly clear.
The streetcar’s bell clanged out its warning again, and this time she didn’t hesitate to use her affinity to pull the seconds until they ran slow. As the world went still around her, the rumble of the streetcar died away into silence. And the Thief’s breath caught in a strangled gasp.
“Esta?” the Magician asked, fear cracking his voice. “What’s wrong?”
“Can’t you see it?” she asked, not bothering to hide her wonder.
Before her the Brink shimmered in the light of the setting sun, its power fluctuating haphazardly in ribbons of energy. Visible. Almost solid. They were every color she had ever imagined and some she didn’t have names for. Like the colors that had flashed in the Magician’s eyes, they were beautiful. Terrible.
“Come on,” she told the Magician, leading him toward the barrier. She could see the path they would take, the spaces between the coiling tendrils of power that would let them slide through untouched.
They were in the middle of the swirling colors, the Magician’s hand like a vise around hers, cold and damp with his fear, when she noticed the darkness. It started at the edges of her vision, like the black spots you see after a flash of light. Nothing more than wisps at first, the darkness slowly bled into her vision like ink in water.
Before, the spaces between the seconds had been easy to find and grab hold of, but now they seemed to be slipping away, the substance of them dissolving as if eaten by the same darkness filling her vision.
“Run,” she said as she felt her hold on time slipping.
“What?” The Magician looked over at her, his eyes now shadowed with the creeping blackness as well.
She stumbled, her legs suddenly like rubber beneath her. The cold power of the Brink was sliding against her skin like a blade. Everything was going dark, and the world around her was fading into nothing.
Esta’s parents were murdered, and her life was stolen. Everything she knew about magic was a lie. She believed the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she had ever imagined. Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world for revenge, and it will use Esta to do so. To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is nothing like they’ve expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink who are unwilling to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them. In St. Louis, the extravagant world’s fair hides the first stone. But an old enemy is out for revenge, and a new enemy is emerging. As past and future collide, time is running out for rewriting history—even for a time-traveling thief.
1. Reread the first five paragraphs of the book and discuss how the author uses them to preview some of the book’s themes. What are some of those themes? What glimpses do we get of Esta’s character and her motivations? What do we see of her relationship with Harte, the Magician?
2. From the first page, it’s clear that one of the book’s themes is new beginnings. Name all the characters embarking on a new venture or journey. Why are they starting over? Do you think this is a positive action for each of them? Where do they find the strength and bravery to make this kind of change?
3. Who are the main characters? Discuss what motivates each of them. For example, of Esta, the author writes, “vengeance . . . stiffened her resolve and kept her feet moving.” Is vengeance the only thing that guides Esta’s actions? Are other characters also motivated by vengeance? Who are they, and what or who are they trying to avenge?
4. Why do you think stories about magic remain popular? Which of the characters’ affinities would you most like to have? Which is the most useful? The most dangerous? The most powerful?
5. When Harte says, “‘Nothing about my affinity has made me happy,’” do you understand what he means? In contrast, Jianyu allows himself “to relax into the comfort of his magic.” How do you think the other characters feel? Are they happy to have affinities, or are they burdened by them? Do they think it comes with a sense of duty and responsibility?
6. Talk about the parallels between this world’s fear and prejudice against the Mageus, and the modern-day discussion about immigration in America. Why do you think people fear and hate those who are different? How might you talk to them about their views?
7. What changed for the Mageus after the Defense Against Magic Act was passed? Do you understand why people who had been living quietly in hiding would now want to challenge the Order? What would you do if you were in their place?
8. Viola “believed that duty to family was more important than her own soul.” What causes her to change her mind? Compare Viola’s thoughts about family to Jack’s when he thinks, “There was a safety in fealty that he had failed to understand and freedom in the constraints of family duty that he had not appreciated as a boy.” Discuss the complicated feelings they both have about their families. Do these feelings impact their actions?
9. Discuss the other family situations in the book. Think about Harte and his mother, Ruth and Maggie, Cela and Abel, and Jianyu and his parents. How many of them feel like they don’t belong with their families? What kind of role do their pasts play in their current motivations?
10. “Never Enough” is the title of one of the St. Louis chapters. Talk about the many ways this phrase applies to the characters.
11. To the Antistasi, the Devil’s Thief is a symbol to rally behind. Discuss the idea of “propaganda of the deed”—taking actions that will serve as an example for others and as a catalyst for change. Do you believe this works? Can you think of examples from the real world? Do you believe the Antistasi’s motives are pure, or that they all want to “stand above the rest with power of their own,” as Ruth thinks?
12. Why do you think the author chose to use alternate points of view? Why is it important for this story to be told by multiple narrators? Did you like this technique? Explain your answer. Talk about how the story might have read if Esta was the only narrator.
13. Esta wants to kill Jack after he finds her and Harte at the train station, but Harte disagrees, saying, “‘If you kill him in cold blood, it will change you.’” Which philosophy do you think is right? Does the act of killing someone change the killer? If so, how? Do you think this applies to Viola, who can so easily stop someone’s heart? Is it a strength or a weakness to show restraint, even against someone who has done evil things?
14. Esta has “trained her whole life to be a weapon.” Viola’s brother considers Viola to be his weapon, and Ruth uses Maggie in much the same way. What might have led these female characters to feel as if they needed to become weapons? How does Viola feel about her brother? How does Maggie feel about Ruth?
15. Nibsy thinks, “Humans were no more than animals, driven by their hungers and fears. Easily manipulated. Predictable.” Do you agree with him? What scenes do you see in the book that prove or disprove his thinking?
16. Nibsy’s notebook shows him his future. Esta, too, knows something of the future and that she has “little hope of walking out of this alive.” Discuss the impact of knowing your future. If you had the chance, would you want to know yours? Would this knowledge make you braver or more fearful?
17. Esta’s affinity is weakened by the power inside Harte. She thinks she “couldn’t—wouldn’t—allow her current weakness to be a liability.” Why is it important to Esta not to show or experience weakness? Do the other Mageus also feel this way? Do you think it’s connected to their affinities?
18. Talk about what freedom means to each of the characters. Esta thinks “she would gladly take the danger” to have the kind of freedom the Antistasi are working toward. Viola dreams of freedom beyond the drudgery of her family life. Can you sympathize with them? What kind of freedom would you like to have? Do you think freedom is something people can take for granted?
19. This book is full of cinematic scenes. Think about how the author weaves character-driven moments with action. Do you think the most important moments of character development coincide with the most climactic scenes? Explain your answer and why you think the author may have made these decisions.
20. Cela talks to Jianyu about the idea that there is something wrong with their land because “the people who were here first—the ones who truly belong here—got killed off or pushed aside, and that does something to a place, all that death and violence.” What do you think about that idea? Can you think of some examples from our world where this has happened or continues to happen, or is this idea more suited to a world with magic in it?
1. Who do you think is the main character in the book? Write an essay supporting your answer using details from the story.
2. Choose one of the story’s themes and trace it throughout the book. Then write an essay about how the author supports that theme through plot, character, setting, and style. Make sure to give examples from the text.
3. Harte says that Julien “taught me how important it is not to lose the heart of who you are when you’re becoming someone else.” How does this statement apply to both of them? Use this idea as the basis for an essay that compares and contrasts these two characters.
4. Choose a chapter from the book that you find especially interesting or meaningful, and rewrite it as a scene from a movie or a play. What are some of the differences you find between writing a movie or a play versus a book?
5. When Viola and Theo tried to rescue Ruby to keep her safe, she thought: “Safe? What was safety but a cage?” Write an opinion essay about whether you agree or disagree with this statement, and why. Can you relate this sentiment to a personal experience, or one from another book you’ve read?
6. The St. Louis World’s Fair was an important cultural event. Do some preliminary research about the fair, and then choose an interesting aspect to research further. Share your findings with your class and see if your discussion helps to re-create some of the magic, innovation, and influence of the global event. Was there anything that surprised you? Does knowing the history behind the fair add to your reading of the story?
7. Observing Ruth, Harte thought, “The line between belief and zealotry was often a fragile one, indistinct and prone to crumble when examined too closely.” Define the words belief and zealotry. As a class, brainstorm a list of times in history when the link between belief and zealotry crumbled, and think about why that may have happened. Then choose an incident or time period from the list and write a report looking at the impact.
Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Lisa Maxwell is the author of the Last Magician series and Unhooked. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, and has a PhD in English. She’s worked as a teacher, scholar, editor, writer, and bookseller (at Little Professor Book Center in Alabama). When she’s not writing books, she’s a professor at a local college. She now lives near Washington, DC, with her husband and two sons. You can follow her on Twitter @LisaMaxwellYA or learn more about her upcoming books at Lisa-Maxwell.com.